I imagine County Executive Day was totally surprised, after completing his 2015 Rockland County Proposed Budget, when a new legal opinion stated an additional $10 million must be set aside to comply with the Rockland County Deficit Reduction Act. He then proposed elimination of the Sheriff’s Patrol Division, and all funding to contract non-profits that do not provide specific services to the County government. Those cuts were among the lowest on his budget trimming priority list. Doing so he balanced the $772 million budget within a State recommended 2% cap on total property tax increases of about $2.1 million, about a $20 annual increase for the average homeowner.
It must have been a difficult decision knowing many of those non-profits provide services to the poor, the retired on fixed income, the homeless, the hungry, the mentally ill, the dying and their families, the developmentally challenged, those with disabilities, the youth in their development toward becoming productive contributors to society and others that improve the quality of life. It must have been a difficult decision knowing these services serve a purpose when over 30% of Rockland residents receive public assistance of one form or another.
It must have been difficult cutting 100% requested funding to organizations including Catholic Community Services of Rockland, Venture Foundation, Mental Health Association Family Treatment Court, Meals on Wheels, Help From People to People, Big Brothers and Sisters of Rockland, The Association for the Visually Impaired, and United Hospice of Rockland.
It must have been difficult for Mr. Day, being a former Police professional, who had placed value in having the Sheriff Patrol Division until the eleventh hour forced him to make additional major cuts.
If it were possible, would Mr. Day restore funding? I believe so.
Funding can be mostly restored and stay within the 2% cap, by amending the Deficit Reduction Act and reducing the $10 million annual set aside. That law was enacted before the County got approval from the State to borrow $96 million to reduce the accumulated deficit, at the time being about $100 million. Setting aside $10 million annually for ten years would eliminate that deficit. Meanwhile the deficit grew to about $138.5 million, and taking in to account the bonds, that deficit amount will be about $41 million at the end of this year according to a November 12th letter from the State Comptroller. The facts have changed and the set aside should be less, perhaps $2 to 4 million in 2015, not $10 million. This would make available about $6 to 8 million to restore services.
I hope the County Legislature does this and the County Executive approves, after assessing the effects on the financial markets and interest rates of future County debt.
It is mostly symbolic adhering to a 2% cap when the average homeowner pays an increase of only $20, although small business owners that own property would likely pay more. Given the adverse affects of eliminating programs I personally would pay higher County property taxes to restore complete funding to non-profits and the Sheriff Patrol Division services. However as the Towns and Villages benefit from the Sheriff Patrol Division, and other shared services, there should be a sharing of some costs for the 2016 budget.
I hope Rockland County residents share their opinions on the matter with their County Legislator.